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22November2017

The Three Divine Madmen

15th century Tibet saw the emergence of the Nyonpa or 'crazy yogi' phenomenon. These yogis came to be called Nyonpa, or crazy, because of their unconventional behavior and activities. The three greatest representatives of the Nyonpa tradition were Tsangnyon Heruka (1452-1507), Unyon Kunga Sangpo (1458-1532) and Drukpa Kunleg (1455-1529), all three are regarded as belonging to the Drukpa Lineage. Tsangnyon wrote the most well-read biography and Gur Bum of Marpa and completed the compilation of the Nyen Gyud Yigcha. He also edited the golden manuscript of the thirteen-volume Nyen Gyud Yizhin Norbu. There is also an interesting account of how Unyon converted heretics into Buddhism:

Following prophecies of Dakinis, Unyon gave up his monk's vows and robes in front of Lord Buddha and, adopting the form of Heruka, he meditated at Chubar, Lachi and the six Dzongs. After some time he realized that subjugating the king of Dzongkha would be equal to vanquishing the gods, devils and humans of Tibet. Adorned with the attire of Heruka he entered the palace of the king of Dzongkha, disregarding the guards and soldiers. The king and ministers were taken by surprise. Suddenly, a large number of people captured him and threw him out. The soldiers and public attacked him with swords, sticks and stones. But he remained unharmed and getting up he danced, shouting 'HUNG' and 'PHET'. Everyone was moved to devotion by the signs of his realization. The king invited him to his palace, made offerings, expressed regret and sought teachings. Unyon subsequently came to be popularly known as 'the great yogi Unyonpa'.

In the winter of that year he went to Nepal and visited all the holy places. He destroyed many idols of Shiva and Vishnu during that time. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered, carrying swords, knives, spears and axes and attacked him. Tying a rope around his neck, they hung him on the branch of a tree and then built a fire below to burn him alive.

Unyon acted as though he were dead but the next day he returned, dancing and looking more magnificent. The people were scared and fainted. Regaining consciousness, they attacked him again and, binding him with ropes, they threw him into the river; he rose from the waters. The king of Nepal then mobilized his army; Unyon was attacked, caught and bound and burnt alive. At dawn of the next day, Unyon came to the centre of the city, blowing the kangling and shouting 'HUNG' and 'PHET'. The people were surprised and, shedding tears of devotion, they prostrated and confessed their mistake and made offerings. The king also made great offerings. Unyon put an image of the Buddha or Avalokiteshvara in the lap of all the Hindu idols and stopped animal sacrifice at these temples.

The Hindus occupied the caves at Asura and Yangle Shod and at that time no Buddhists were allowed into these places. Unyon went to these caves and tamed and converted the Hindus to Buddhism. Then he returned to Lachi. On the prophecy of dakinis, he went to Tsari and was received by Shing Kyong Wangpo, the protector of Tsari. He stayed there for one year. Then he traveled through Kongpo, Dagpo, Jayul and other places, giving teachings and guiding the fortunate beings on the path.

Through disciplined training and contemplation of the teachings that he received, Drukpa Kunleg gained realization when he was twenty-five years old. The path of spiritual development ended and he became the essential nature of the ultimate reality. Thereafter, he relinquished the systematic monastic life and adopted an itinerant lifestyle, wandering from place to place with a bow and arrow. Through carefree wandering and skilful methods, he demonstrated his spiritual accomplishment and guided many beings onto the path of enlightenment. He became legendary for the outrageous nature of his teachings, delivered in the most unexpected ways, often with strong sexual connotations. His actions, free of inhibition and superficiality, seemed incongruous with conventional behavior and earned him the title 'Druknyon', or the 'Madman of the Drukpa lineage'. He traveled widely through the U and Tsang regions of Tibet, teaching and guiding the beings by the demonstration of miracles and display of his spiritual accomplishments. His teachings cut through social conventions and dogma and revealed the universal law of cause and conditions. As in Tibet, he also became a sort of folk hero and cult figure in Bhutan. He first visited Bumthang in Bhutan on a pilgrimage and meditated at Kurje; the sacred place where Guru Padmasambhava had meditated and left an imprint of his body on the rock. He also gave transmission of the Mani and Vajra Guru Mantras to the local people.